It is Saturday morning. Exactly one week before Delhi goes to polls. And Arvind Kejriwal is about to set out from Girnar, the Indian Revenue Service officers’ residential complex at Kaushambi in Ghaziabad (where his wife, an IRS officer, has been allotted an apartment), for another day of campaigning, this time in his own New Delhi Assembly constituency. Destination: Dhobi Ghat No. 4.
An MPV is the only difference; a Toyota Innova instead of the blue Maruti WagonR. Otherwise, Kejriwal’s sartorial style and election campaign paraphernalia bear a striking resemblance to that seen during his electoral debut in the winter of 2013 — a sweater worn over a shirt, pants, sneakers, his trademark muffler and not-to-be-missed cough, too. Not for him the ubiquitous white, starched kurta-pyjama or Nehru jacket. No retinue of hangers-on or a posse of security guards and certainly no blaring loudspeakers or slogan-shouting supporters for company.
As his vehicle makes its way from Ghaziabad on the outskirts of Delhi to his constituency in the heart of the city, Kejriwal makes small talk with his driver in between taking bites of home-cooked parathas for breakfast. By 10.30 am, he has reached the venue of his first public meeting at Dhobi Ghat No. 4. The diminutive man that he is, Kejriwal improvises as he goes along, sometimes climbing on a chair to address a group of people.
This morning, his target is the Congress party, not the BJP. “In the past 10 years, the Congress treated slum-dwellers like a vote bank. At election time, the party buys your votes with false promises and money, only to later demolish your slums and take control of the land,” he tells a predominantly male audience.
Kejriwal knows he cannot disappoint the very people who have stood by him, so he quickly moves on to the bread-andbutter issues facing the aam aadmi (common man) — paani (potable water), bijli (electricity) and makaan (housing).
“The plots should be big enough for a family of five… with a kitchen and toilet,” he speaks in a reassuring tone and is instantly greeted with slogans of “Kejriwal zindabad”.
“I feel no one is born to live in a slum,” he asserts. “No party has paid attention to the problems of the slum-dwellers. They have made false promises, including that of providing you all plots or low-cost housing, but I give you my word… I will ensure that you are given plots or flats, in a clean environment, in the same location as the existing slum.”
“Affordable housing will be developed in sufficiently large numbers so that in the future, slums can cease to exist,” he adds for good measure.
Water tariff has gone up, too, interjects a listener. Reduce water tariff, give us water at domestic tariffs, not commercial rates, demands another. Electricity is provided to us at commercial rates, too, goes another complaint.
Kejriwal promises to reduce the water and electricity tariffs. “If water tariff goes up, what will the dhobi (washerman) eat? I will ensure that you get water and electricity at domestic, not commercial, rates,” he tells them.
“My home and office are always open to you,” he reminds them as he takes their leave.
Kejriwal goes door to door asking for support, accompanied by a small group that includes his personal assistant. Before long, he is on his way to the Constitution Club where his colleagues have gathered for the release of the AAP manifesto.
With five more days to go before campaigning officially ends for the 7 February election, Kiran Bedi is up and about early Sunday morning when Tehelka caught up with her at her residence. An early riser, discipline comes naturally for the retired top cop and by 6.30 am she is ready to hit the campaign trail. (An aide whispers that this has been her routine ever since she started her campaign.)
After a light breakfast, Bedi exchanges pleasantries with her staff and a band of supporters before setting off in an SUV for Krishna Nagar from where she is contesting. A few minutes into the drive, she realises she is not wearing the seat belt and quickly checks herself.
Bedi’s first stop is a police station in Geeta Colony. Her supporters huddle around her as she greets the staff present, a hark back to her career in the Indian Police Service when she served in Delhi and other locations in the country.
Her first public engagement of the day is at Vatika Palace, where she is joined by many BJP supporters and some members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP. She makes polite conversation with the locals, all the time taking care to shake off her image of a tough cop. However, not everyone is convinced. “She should act more humble… her tone is authoritative. She is asking us to vote for her as if we owe something to her and the BJP,” says a middle-aged man who would not share his name.
Soon, Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay joins Bedi and their motorcade continues on its journey through the lanes and bylanes of Geeta Colony. Every now and then, Bedi would sip lukewarm water for treating a sore throat and also remind everyone within earshot to aim for “A+” grade and not be satisfied with only an “A”, egging on the BJP supporters to work unitedly, as a disciplined force.
She even narrates an incident from her campaign when Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked her, “Thak gayi ho kya? (Are you tired?)”. To this, she had replied, “I used to wake up at 5 am when I was in school and run behind my father’s motorcycle to build my stamina.” She goes on to say that “I personally believe that three or four hours of sleep is enough for a person”.
At one intersection, she refers to Modi as “my brother” and seeks to impress upon everyone present there that she will ask him to extend every possible help to the Delhi voter. “Do not doubt me, I am here for you every time,” she reminds them.
After spending an hour in Geeta Colony, Bedi’s motorcade makes its way to Krishna Nagar, where she is joined by Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who has won five consecutive elections from this constituency. Bedi gets out of her vehicle and begins negotiating the serpentine lanes and bylanes of Krishna Nagar on foot. She hops on to a cycle rickshaw and an open jeep as the morning progresses, waving to the crowds and the people perched on rooftops. Her supporters burst firecrackers at some intersections and ring doorbells to announce her arrival.
A little after noon, her aides remind Bedi that she has to hurry as she has to travel across the city to Dwarka where Modi is scheduled to address a rally. As Bedi’s motorcade disappears into the traffic, her supporters rent the air with slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Desh Mein Modi, Dilli Mein Bedi (Modi for the country, Bedi for Delhi).